Could cactus be the food (and energy) of the future?
Manfred Warmuth has been growing cacti for about ten years at his house on Santa Cruz’s upper Westside. He loves sharing his nopales, or pads from the Opuntia cactus, with the community at the Festival de Nopal, which takes place downtown and celebrates its fifth year this weekend. With climate change on its way, Warmuth says, people will need to grow different produce, like cacti, that can survive in hotter, drier climates.
“I like foods that take care of themselves,” says Warmuth, a UCSC computer science professor and native of Germany. “You just plant, and you only harvest, and you hardly have to water. The main thing is the cultural problem. You have to educate people how to use it.”
GT: So, how do you cook with nopales?
Manfred Warmuth: Anything you do with a cucumber or zucchini. I don’t like recipes, but you can make stews. You put it in soup. It gives it a creamy texture because it’s slimy, but if you do it in the right amount, it’s really good. The classical Mexican one is to fry it with onions, or to add eggs to it for breakfast.
This cactus plant is huge. Was it on the property when you moved in?
No, it grows very fast. With the right conditions it’s one of the plants that produces the most biomass. They want to use it and agave also for growing biofuel. It’s a very, very powerful plant.
What do you want for the festival in future years?
We want to move the festival one parking lot over and make it bigger, and then we can actually have a tent for teaching.
Are your plants organic?
What do you mean? Organic in America is a joke. One of the most stringent organic requirements is the California system, and they allow you to use blood meal, bone meal, any amount of stuff from the outside. Actually, it’s a big problem for the world—the American organics because the international organics have to compete with it. I have a brother who is a German farmer. Over there, some regulations force them to do green manuring. None in the U.S. force green manuring. Everything is beautiful if you look at it from a distance. If you know a little bit, it’s a mess.
INFO: July 27, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. 176 Lincoln St., Santa Cruz, Free.